One of the most impressive social protection programs I have seen in recent months is Togo’s “Novissi”. In just a few weeks, the program “… built and deployed a completely contactless, digital system that provided over half a million individuals with cash”, as a new piece by Blumenstock noted. In fact, “… beneficiaries registered using their mobile phones; after entering basic information into a USSD menu, they were then immediately sent mobile money transfers of approximately $20/month, lasting for three months”. The article also argues that a targeting process based on satellite and mobile phones data would provide benefits to nearly x2.5 as many of the poorest citizens than approaches based on occupation (h/t Tina George). Bonus on Togo: a paper by Sodokin finds that cash transfers provided as part of the Covid19 response increase demand for services (residential development, health, education, etc.) as well as goods (especially food expenditures) (see tables 11 and 12).
Two extremely important papers on gender! What do 20 years of evidence tell us about “what works” to prevent child marriage? It turns out that, according to a new article by Malhotra and Elnakib, supporting “… girls’ schooling through cash or in-kind transfers show the clearest pattern of success in preventing child marriage”. This is particularly the case for conditional transfers, which show positive findings in 8/10 of robust studies reviewed. In another article on Tanzania, Gichane et al find that cash transfers “… reduced young women’s transactional sex motivated by economic vulnerability”.
How can cash transfers help address food insecurity in fragile settings? Magendane et al reviewed case studies from 8 NGOs and distill a range of findings in terms of cash and markets, power dynamics and local stakeholders, and tradeoffs as well as complementarities with other interventions.
Speaking of fragile settings… a study by ODI and Camaleon investigate how cash transfers improve or hinder social cohesion between Syrian refugees and Lebanese host communities. Was fascinated by the different perceptions that Lebanese communities hold on the highly contentious issue of “differential treatment” between residents and refugees.
Moving to specific design features, timing of transfers matters: in the US, for instance, the SNAP voucher program creates cycles of consumption over the month. A paper by Bond et al shows that taking a national college admissions exam in the last two weeks of the SNAP benefit cycle has negative effects, i.e., it reduces test scores and lowers the probability of attending a 4-year college for low-income high school students.
More on SNAP, with two great papers! One presents new evidence on the oldest question in social protection: do transfers disincentivize work? Bitler et al examine the effects on the amount of work (intensive margin) under SNAP and conclude that “… labor supply distortions due to changes in the benefit reduction rate are not a first order concern”. Another note offers a summary of recent research by Bailey et al (shared last year) with lots of juicy findings: when children living in families getting SNAP become adults, their human capital grows by 6%, economic self-sufficiency by 3%, the quality neighborhoods by 8%, their longevity by 0.4 percentage points (pp) and likelihood of incarceration diminishes by 0.5 pp.
Moving to India, a paper by Varshney et al estimate that cash transfers to farmers “… increased small and marginal farmers’ procurement of seeds for the upcoming season. (…) Lower transaction costs, minimal leakages, and immediate delivery make a strong case for direct cash transfers”.
From targeted to universal transfers: a subcommittee in South Africa is proposing a UBI. Unlike many pilots, this would be a “true” universal basic income. How would it work? It’d extend an existing grant to all working-age adults (so not for seniors). Report on the proposal’s details will be out in May (h/t Victoria Monchuk).
Let’s stay in Africa: want to (literally) hear how a cash transfer program ($20/month) combined with nutrition information reduced child stunting by up to 8% in Nigeria? Then listen to the VoxDev podcast featuring the work by Carneiro et (also this one shared last year, see full paper here).
Same region, different topic! Big dilemma in Ethiopia: new analysis by Diao et al reveals a dichotomy between larger firms that exhibit higher productivity and low employment (because of capital-intensive techniques) versus small firms that absorb employment but do not experience much productivity growth.
Three super papers on jobs and skills (h/t Michael Weber)! Guzi et al find that immigration has contributed to reducing inequality within the 25 EU countries over the 2003-2017 period. van den Berg et al show that for the most vulnerable workers, Germany’s “integration agreements” (i.e., mandatory contracts between the employment agency and the unemployed, jointly signed by the latter and the caseworker) increase the probability of re-employment within a year by 45%-53%. And Elliott et al argue that in the Netherlands, subsidy-driven policies, rather than regulation-oriented one, positively correlate with generating “green jobs”.
More globally, based on data from 39 countries Khamis et al unveil the labor market impacts of the pandemic – for instance, 62% of workers reported income loss, 34% stopped work, and 20% of wage workers reported lack of payment (h/t Ian Walker).
Final fireworks: about two thirds of China’s poverty in 1980 can be attributed to the impact of the Maoist path since 1950. It took 10-20 years for China’s post-reform economy to make up the lost ground – great new paper by Ravallion. And for German speakers, here is a reporting on cash transfers on the Spiegel.
Ugo Gentilini is from the World Bank’s Social Protection & Jobs global practice. The Social Protection Links newsletter, issued every Friday, distills and discusses a selection of curated resources on the topic, from academic articles to podcasts. The blog is republished on socialprotection.org each week, offering knowledge on social protection to helps you stay on top of it — succinctly, regularly and frequently. Previous editions can be found here.